Should Liverpool Extend James Milner’s Contract?

It’s currently a strange time for LFC Twitter. You might not be part of the social media bubble, so allow me to explain briefly. The fact that the Reds won the European Cup just over a month ago means that there’s a vast swathe of Twitter users who fit firmly into the ‘trust the manager, trust his team’ camp and simply refuse to abide any criticism of the club’s current approach whatsoever. Diametrically opposed to those people are the likes of Corbally Red, who thinks Fenway Sports Group are a disgraceful set of owners and that we should all be marching on Anfield to get them out of the club. I find myself far more readily aligned with the first set of people than the latter. I believe that the club’s current transfer strategy is driven entirely by Jürgen Klopp, Michael Edwards and the team of boffins in air conditioned offices. I think that the owners would give the German whatever he asked for, if only he’d ask for it. I don’t think anything the club is doing right now is anything other than because it’s what the Champions League and ninety-seven point winning manager wants them to do.

I therefore find myself smack band in the middle of a third group: one that thinks the owners are excellent, even if they could be doing more, and that believes that the manager is world class and I wouldn’t want anyone else in charge, yet also feel he has some blind spots. I was told my someone recently that all I do is complain and moan and that in the context of the club’s points total and the lifting of the big shiny thing I should just shut up and be happy. It’s possible that you agree with them. The reality is that I don’t think I’m right, it’s just my take on what’s currently going on at the club. I’m also very aware that we’re a football club in the context of having to fight in an unfair battle; one in which Manchester City are backed by the wealth, power and influence of an entire nation. Marginal gains are key. I’m delighted that we won the biggest trophy in football last season, but I don’t want us to rest on our laurels. We need to push in to succeed and so my critical viewpoint is based around the idea of wanting us to be better in all departments. With that in mind, I’m intrigued by the idea of Milner being offered a contract extension. Is it needed?

He’s Not Getting Any Younger

I think James Milner is a remarkable athlete. That he apparently wins the fitness tests in every pre-season is testament to him as a physical specimen. I made a tongue-in-cheek observation the other day that a 101-year-old raced in a marathon but that doesn’t mean that he should be playing Premier League football, only to be greeted by replies informing me that the fitness team will be looking at countless different metrics to assess a player. That’s very true and of course they know far more about James Milner’s state than I ever could. Yet the one thing I can tell you definitively is that he isn’t getting any younger and he has a huge number of miles in his legs. He made his debut for Leeds United on the 10th of November in 2002 as a sixteen-year-old and has played five hundred and twenty-one league games since then, to say nothing of various cup appearances.

We have seen with the likes of Wayne Rooney what happens when a player with a huge number of miles in their legs falls off a cliff. Now it’s entirely fair to say that Milner looks after himself far more than the former Everton and Manchester United man does, but eventually time catches up with you. There will come a point at which even Milner’s superior fitness isn’t enough to keep him going in the Premier League. There’s an argument that we’ve already started to see his standard slipping slightly, if you think back to how many performances he gave that had people asking what the hell he was doing, with the Fulham game being the perfect example. He was sent on to ‘calm things down’ and immediately gave the ball away to allow Ryan Babel to equalise. There was also a performance at left-back when he couldn’t find a pass for love nor money. Is that his age starting to show in fits and spurts?

There’s The Gary McAllister Argument

Even if we are starting to see signs of his ageing creeping into his performances, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we should immediately sell him and move on. People thought that Gérard Houllier had lost his mind when he went out of his way to sign thirty-five-year-old Gary McAllister on a Bosman free transfer in the summer of 2000. It proved to be an inspired decision, with the Scot offering a wise head to guide, influence and help a young squad that the Frenchman had put together. We went on to win an FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup treble that season, in what remains one of our most successful in terms of trophy hauls alone. There’s certainly an argument that Milner could fulfil a similar ‘elder statesman’ role for this current crop of Liverpool players, though I do think it’s slightly different in the sense that the lads have just won a European Cup and notched up ninety-seven points in the league, so it’s not as if they’re wet behind the ears and inexperienced.

I’m certainly not advocating the notion of the club selling James Milner this summer. I think he’s an excellent asset and it’s clear that he’s popular with the manager, his fellow players and fans. Yet I also wonder about the wisdom of offering a player who will be thirty-four in January an extension to a contract that already takes him to the summer of 2020. We’ve seen with the likes of Adam Lallana what happens when you give a player past his peak a new contract: it becomes impossible to move them on. Perhaps the new contract will have something in it about moving him over to the training staff at some point, which I would have no problem with. I just can’t help wondering what Manchester City would do in this situation and the fact that they allowed him to leave in 2015 and since then have won two Premier Leagues, to League Cups and the FA Cup probably tells you quite a lot. As I say, it’s all about marginal gains and I don’t know what having Milner at the club past this season offers us on that front. As always, though, I’m desperate to be proven wrong.

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